A dedicated Navajo neighbor

Posted: September 15th, 2017 | Communities, Features, Mission Trails, Top Stories | No Comments

By Jeff Clemetson | Editor

City to honor Jay Wilson for exemplary community service

In August, Jay Wilson announced that he would be stepping down as executive director of the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation (MTRPF) where he had served for nine years.

In addition to his time as MTRPF’s first executive director, Wilson has always been a dedicated neighbor and volunteer to the Navajo communities. He is a current member of the Del Cerro Action Council; has served on the Navajo Community Planners, Inc.; helped start and revive the Lake Murray July 4 fireworks festivals; and helps put up the U.S. flags along Navajo Road every legal holiday.

Jay Wilson retired from his position as executive director of the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation in August. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

On Sept. 19, the city of San Diego will officially recognize Wilson by proclaiming it “Jay Wilson Day” during a ceremony at 10 a.m. in the City Council chambers.

The Mission Times Courier sat down with Wilson to talk about his time at Mission Trails Park and what the future holds.

[Editor’s note: interview was edited for brevity and clarity.]


What were you doing before you came to Mission Trails Regional Park?

I spent 14 years working with Councilmember Judy McCarty and then Councilmember Jim Madaffer and that ended in December of 2008 when Jim was termed out.

Then I started at Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation on Jan. 9, 2009. They hadn’t had an executive director before, so it was new for everyone.


What was Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation like before you came and what were some of the changes over the years?

The foundation started in 1984, I believe, and they met on a monthly basis. The city owns and maintains the park, but the foundation is the support group. The foundation is the one that put in, through grants they got from the state, over half the money to build the Visitor and Interpretive Center, which opened in 1995. That was their major contribution.

When I started, I had one main interest — to get the education program going.

The city has one that continues very successfully and does over 4,000 children a year through their program.

And then for the foundation, we secured a grant from SDG&E through their Environmental Champions Grant Program, which has been renewed successfully every year, and that was for $25,000 and that allowed us to go into the school districts and announce that we also had an education program. One of the unique things about our program is that we can provide bus transportation, so we can pay for the cost of transportation, which is one of the major setbacks or challenges for most field trips.

We service grades K–8. In the eight years we’ve done that program, we’ve served over 35,000 children, so that’s pretty rewarding.


What are some of the other programs that happened during your tenure?

Overnight camping program: We got a grant from SDG&E that included funding for overnight camping and it was awarded just as the city decided to close the campground. So that was put on hold for a while. But we got that going again in May two years ago.

We worked out an agreement with the city and the school district and that took a long time for them to figure out how that was going to work. It is only offered to sixth grade classes in the San Diego Unified School District, so it’s kind of a pilot program. We’ve had several middle schools that have taken advantage of the program the last several years.

Private events at the park: We were able to work with the city and come up with a plan where we could actually offer the Visitor Center after hours to private parties — weddings, retirement parties, bar mitzvahs, celebrations of life — and they’ve been successful.

People can’t believe the venue here. We can take up to 350 people and it’s economical for them and it puts some money back into the foundation, back into the park.

Concerts: We started the concerts again. We’re in our seventh season now.

Dr. Mitz Tomida approached me about seven-and-a-half years ago and said, “Have you ever done concerts?” And I was the new kid on the block so I checked and said, “Yeah, but they didn’t work right.”

So he said, “We can try it again.” And he’s booked all the groups and we’ve been running one or two concerts a month for seven years.

5-Peak Challenge: A big success was Ranger Levi Dean came up with the 5-Peak Challenge. The idea was: How do we get people in other places in the park other than Cowles Mountain, which is the most hiked trail of its kind in Southern California?

We came up with the 5-Peak Challenge. We knew it would be successful. It started in November of 2015 and we’re either at or real close to 6,000 people having done all five peaks. They come in and get a certificate and nice little lapel pin. The amazing thing is that everybody that comes in, everybody’s real pleased that they did it. You’d figure that out of 6,000 people, somebody would come in and say, “My God, I’m never going to hike again” after doing it but everyone is really enthusiastic.

We probably have a few more people on Cowles Mountain just because of the promotion itself, but we have people out in the park. One lady she said, “We used to go from Cowles Mountain over to Piles Peak and there was nobody. Now there was just 28 people we ran into.” So people are going to other places, and that was the idea.

The foundation is getting ready to install four monument signs. There is a nice monument sign at the top of Cowles but on the other four peaks there are just small signs – they’re getting ready to replace those with real nice signs and that will increase the interest in the 5-Peak Challenge. People take selfies next to those signs and email them or show them to the rangers to prove they climbed to the top of all five peaks to get their certificate.


Are there any projects or programs you wished you could have done that you didn’t get to do at Mission Trails?

We worked on a wildland wildfire detection system. It’s taken a long, long time because it is going to be hosted through part of San Diego State and getting through some of their firewalls was a real problem.

They recently changed their policy so it looks like it might be doable so if we can get everything working on this side then we can go back to the gentleman who offered to donate the software for this part of the detection system and say, “Will you reconsider us?”


What are you going to miss most about working at Mission Trails Park?

The people. There is a great cadre of volunteers and an incredibly dedicated staff from the rangers to the ground maintenance crew to the directors of the Visitors Center and the campground.

It’s a very unique arrangement between the city — the San Diego Park and Recreation Department Open Space Division, particularly — and the foundation. It’s the only one of its kind in the city and it works really well.


What are your plans now?

I’m still on the Del Cerro Action Council and I’m involved with the Henry Cluster STEMM, which is science, technology, engineering, math and music, and arts for the area. Just in the past week and a half, I started working on developing a stronger partnership between San Diego State, particularly their college of sciences and the Patrick Henry Cluster.

[Editor’s note: For more on the STEMM program, read Jay Wilson’s article he wrote on the program on Page 11 or online.]

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at

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